The new Parti Quebecois minister responsible for Quebec's language law says companies should stop making bilingualism a requirement when hiring new staff.
Diane De Courcy says bilingualism should only be a bonus skill for most jobs — not a condition for employment.
"For most positions, bilingualism should be an asset, not a basic requirement," she told the Conseil du patronat employers' group on Monday.
De Courcy says a number of immigrants were accepted by Quebec because of their ability to speak French but, upon their arrival, were unable to find jobs because they can't speak English.
She said she was surprised to hear that some community organizations had told immigrants who didn't speak English that they might have better luck finding work outside Montreal where it is more French.
"I firmly believe that we can improve the regionalization of immigrants to contribute to economic development," she said, "but when someone suggests to (immigrants) that they leave Montreal to improve their career prospects because they are weak in English — I think we have a serious problem."
Ironically, she said, the decline of French had been stemmed by these immigrants from Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
De Courcy, who acknowleged the merits of bilingualism on an individual level, said the government has to act to prevent a preceived erosion of French in Montreal. She says that erosion will be precipitated if mandatory bilingualism becomes the norm in the workplace.
She says Premier Pauline Marois will outline new language policies when the legislature opens Wednesday.
The Parti Quebecois campaigned in the last election on a promise to tighten Quebec's Charter of the French Language and expand the use of French at work.
It's expected to create new restrictions on who can attend English-language junior colleges, and also extend language laws to smaller businesses. It's unclear which of the language policies will be adopted by the legislature, however, as the PQ has only a minority government.